Sudan is an important crossroads between the Horn and North Africa and, for this reason, a country of transit for regional refugee flows and trans-Mediterranean migration networks. While Khartoum and its surrounding provinces remain relatively stable, instability and internal conflict still occur in the country’s peripheries, including the western Darfur region. Many Western countries, including the U.S., European Union and its member states are now seeking better relations with Khartoum. To this end, in October 2017 U.S. economic and trade sanctions were lifted. Through field research and advocacy with Sudanese and international actors in the region, we aim to reduce the likelihood of conflict inside Sudan and encourage Khartoum’s shift toward positively engaged regional and international relations.
Popular protests are rumbling across Sudan, shaking President Omar al-Bashir’s 30-year grip on power. The authorities have cracked down hard and, as the demonstrations intensify, they may ratchet up the repression. External powers should urge restraint and offer Bashir a way to the exit.
Amid mounting anger over economic crisis, protests broke out in north east and swiftly spread to 28 cities and towns across country; security forces’ brutal response reportedly left up to 37 people dead. Protests began 19 Dec in town of Atbara in north east and quickly spread. Protesters called for President Bashir (in power since 1989) to step down and in several places set fire to local headquarters of ruling party. Intelligence services ordered internet shutdown and closed down a number of newspapers. Authorities from 22 Dec arrested two dozen opposition leaders, closed schools and universities to prevent students taking part. U.S., UK and Norway 24 Dec expressed concern over govt’s excessive use of force against demonstrators and UN Secretary-General Guterres 28 Dec called on govt to investigate deaths of protesters. Parliament 4 Dec backed constitutional amendment to extend presidential term limits, allowing President Bashir to run again in elections planned for 2020. Armed opposition groups Justice and Equality Movement and Sudan Liberation Movement-Minni Minnawi 10 Dec signed pre-negotiation agreement with govt to resume talks in Jan on basis of Doha Document for Peace in Darfur (DDPD). African Union High-Level Implementation Panel (led by former South Africa President Thabo Mbeki) 9-12 Dec convened in Addis Ababa to start consultation with Sudanese parties on revision of roadmap on adopting new constitution and on national elections scheduled for 2020; consultations suspended as they excluded political opposition groups, including Sudanese Congress Party. Senior security personnel met U.S. counterparts to increase cooperation, discussions included those on potential “five-point plan +1” to improve adherence to human rights. Bashir 16 Dec visited Syria for first time since March 2011. Bashir 18 Dec received Saudi delegation in Khartoum and pledged continued support to Saudi-led coalition in Yemen.
By 12 October, Washington will decide whether the steps Sudan has taken qualify it for lifting some U.S. sanctions. But to push forward afterwards will require a new roadmap that ties further sanctions relief and improved bilateral relations to political reform and human rights.
China, traditionally averse to intervening abroad, is testing the role of peacebuilder in South Sudan, where it has unique leverage. This could portend a growing global security role, but further Chinese engagement will likely be tempered by self-interest, capacity constraints and aversion to risk.
The clock is ticking for President Trump who must decide by 12 July whether to lift decades-long U.S. sanctions on Sudan. The failure of economic penalties to alter Khartoum’s behaviour so far means Washington should repeal some sanctions and continue a process of conditional engagement.
Sudan's government is in survival mode. As it drifts away from its former radical Islamist ideology toward a new foreign policy pragmatism, Western powers should encourage Khartoum to solve the internal wars that have done so much damage to the country and blocked the normalisation of external relations with this increasingly active player in the Middle East.
Talks led by East Africa’s IGAD offer the best chance to end South Sudan’s spreading war. International partners must put aside their disillusionment and rally to the regional body’s new IGAD-PLUS mechanism to help mediators reach a deal.
[Sudan's President] Bashir has faced down protests before, but what’s clear is that the economy has reached a tipping point and the masses have been pushed to the edge.
While [Sudan] wants to show [its] independence from Egypt on the diplomatic front, [it] can’t afford to have a more powerful enemy, such as Egypt, that can affect [its] relationship with the Gulf states.
[Salah Abdallah Mohammed Salih] may be seen [by Sudan's President] as a strong guy who could handle the difficult political situation given the recent protests.
This is a dangerous moment [for Sudan]. By taking out [Darfur's powerful militia chief] Musa Hilal, [Khartoum] has pitched two Darfuri Arab clans against each other.
[After the lifting of U.S. sanctions in Sudan] there’s been a lot of excitement among the Sudanese middle classes, even for things like getting a cinema. The sanctions have not been effective.
It is appropriate to offer Sudan incentives and the beginning of a way back to a kind of international order from which it was thoroughly expelled. They had made enough progress, and we need to keep pushing them to climb.
Addis Ababa can win economic and security gains if it perseveres with its impressive commitment to peace efforts in South Sudan. With its new two-year membership on the UN Security Council, Addis Ababa has the opportunity to better connect regionally-led political processes to UN action.
President Museveni will naturally defend Uganda’s short-term interests, but he should also work towards longer-term stability by supporting President Salva Kiir’s pledge to bring peace through ARCSS implementation, negotiations and national dialogue.
Originally published in Daily Monitor
Originally published in Sudan Tribune